SUN VALLEY, Idaho (Reuters) - ESPN President George Bodenheimer said on Wednesday his company has had “off the charts” success with its World Cup coverage, and the sports network did not rule out the possibility of launching a dedicated soccer channel in the United States.
The cable network, which is owned by Walt Disney Co and shares the U.S. rights to English-language live coverage with sister network ABC for 2010 and 2014, already plans to bulk up its coverage of top-level European soccer this year after the World Cup.
“We had high expectations for the World Cup, but I think we met and exceeded all of them,” said Bodenheimer, speaking on the sidelines of the Allen & Co-organized conference here.
According to Nielsen ratings data compiled ahead of the last four matches, World Cup viewership jumped by 50 percent from previous event in 2006, with 2.94 million viewers per game.
That marked a record for U.S. World Cup coverage, and Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger told reporters in Sun Valley this week he was “very happy” with how the event had gone.
ESPN, best known for its coverage of U.S. professional and college sports like basketball, baseball and football, has stepped up its coverage of the world’s most popular sport.
It picked up rights to some English Premiership League matches in Britain and the United States following the collapse of Irish broadcaster Setanta.
Bodenheimer said ESPN is moving “full steam ahead” with further soccer coverage. Further matches broadcast on TV could see ESPN go into more direct competition with News Corp’s Fox Soccer Channel and its recently launched premium channel, Fox Soccer Plus.
ESPN could consider a similar dedicated channel but Bodenheimer said it was not on the cards at present.
“It’s not something we’re actively looking at right now, but I wouldn’t rule anything out given that the company likes to continue to grow,” he said.”
Reporting by Yinka Adegoke; Editing by Steve Orlofsky